Happy Easter – and congratulations! We have all made the journey and the transition from Lent and Holy Week to Easter; gathered here together we have crossed that threshold from darkness to light, from suffering to joy, from death to life.
Easter has begun – and I’d like to ask you a question; do you have a passport?
I remember how exciting it was the first time I applied for a passport – to get my photo taken and then go to the county office to file my application. I was looking forward to my first overseas trip, and without a passport I wouldn’t be going anywhere.
Of course nowadays, when you need some form of government identification just to set foot on an airplane, a passport may not seem quite so exotic and adventurous, but still – if you want to cross the border, go to another country, have an international adventure, a passport is an absolute requirement. Without a valid passport you can’t enter the country of your destination.
So what does this have to do with Easter? Well, it’s not about going to the Caribbean for spring break, but it does have everything to do with moving from sin to grace, from dark to light, from slavery to freedom, from death to life.
In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul says: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? …For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
The language that Paul uses is all about location and spiritual citizenship; about having lived prior to our faith in Christ in a spiritual kingdom where sin is a “dark ruling power” that claimed all our loyalty and shaped our reality; sin as a quality of life, rather than a description of our conduct, in the kingdom of sin and death. And in Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection the frontier between that old kingdom of death and the new Kingdom of God’s grace has been opened, the portals swung wide into freedom and new life. Jesus has flung open the gates, and our passport to this new country is baptism; it is our passport, our visa and our naturalization papers – all in one go.
Baptism – being baptized into Christ – is what moves us from the kingdom of sin (separation from God) into the kingdom of God, and it’s possible because of Jesus’ death on the Cross and his rising to new life on the third day.
We’ve just renewed our baptismal vows in this service and been sprinkled with water from the font, and we’ve been bidden to “remember your baptism and be thankful.” That’s not a request to recall something that might have happened to us as infants or young children, but it is a call to consider who we are (Christians) and to whom we belong (Christ). Our baptism into Christ means that we have spiritually and symbolically shared in Jesus’ death; the water of baptism is more about drowning than is it is about bathing. It says that the power of sin in our lives has been destroyed, and we have now moved to a new place, emigrated to a new country with a different language, different customs, a different set of expectations about how to live and what is important.
This new realm in which we live is the Kingdom of God – it is a new address, a new citizenship for us that is marked by justice, grace, truth, compassion, humility, new life and the power of God that we see in resurrection. When we joined Jesus in his death, when we became entwined with Christ through baptism, we also were united with him in his resurrection, in his rising to new life – and Easter is the start of it all.
We have moved from that country called sin to that country called the Kingdom of God, through the portal of resurrection, by the passport of our baptism, and we stand on resurrection ground. We may only be a little way in, we may have only just stepped inside, and we all have a life-time journey to get to the center, a journey into Christ – but we have arrived in our new homeland, and we have left behind the old life and the old ways.
I have a clergy colleague who has lived with depression for years, with bi-polar disorder. He shared with me that one of the touchstones that helps him on days when he struggles is splashing water on his face in the morning and reminding himself that he is a baptized person; he belongs to Christ, not to himself; and the power of the resurrection is alive and active in his life because of his baptism. We all have things we struggle with; we all have trials and temptations that come at us like too many e-mails from our old life in our in-box; like postcards from the old country, reminding us of what life was like before we were joined to Christ. These can be distressing, they can weigh us down and catch us off-guard, knock us off-center when we least expect them. But the spiritual power of those trials and temptations, the forces which would draw us back into our old lives, has been broken be Jesus’ rising from death to new life.
So now in the Kingdom of God, standing on resurrection ground, we are learning a new language, new customs, new patterns of life, just as we would if we were to move to a different country, a different culture.
Our deepening life of faith and practice of holy habits is a reflection of our growing fluency with “speaking resurrection”, with living “in Christ” and we will go on growing and maturing, by the grace of God. But it all starts here, at Easter, with the central fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection that has flung wide the gates, that has opened up the frontier, that has trampled down death by his own death and resurrection.
And we have moved to our new homeland, our new reality by virtue of our baptism – our passport, our visa and our naturalization papers. Remember your baptism and be thankful – indeed! Christ is risen! The Lord has risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints' Church, Millington, NJ
The Great Vigil of Easter
April 7, 2012